The condition of men’s legs are not something that they are concerned with; they don’t sit around and talk about varicose veins while drinking a beer and watching a game for the FIFA World Cup or their favorite sports program. Perhaps the condition of their legs is at least something they should think about and talk to their physician. About 10-15% of younger men have varicose veins whereas about 20-25%of the young women experience the problem. As I wrote about last week, it’s the women who will seek a physician’s advice about varicose veins and not the men. Most men think varicose veins are no big deal…a woman’s problem. Think again. By the time men are in their sixties between 50 and 60% have varicose veins.
When sitting or standing for prolonged periods of time, blood pools in the lower extremity expanding the vein walls. Over time the veins loose their elasticity and do not return to their taut state. Some people (both men and women) have a genetic preponderance to varicose veins. If one of your parents has vein disease (venous insufficiency), you have about a 33% chance of developing it. If both of your parents have venous insufficiency, your chance jumps up to 90%.
- Here are some steps you can take to help avoid varicose veins:
- Exercise regularly…It’s important to involve your calves. It is the calves that act as a secondary pump to return the blood to the heart.
- Wear compression hose… Some physicians recommend everyone wear knee-length compression stockings—even if they don’t have signs of varicose veins. The compression of the stockings assists the calf muscle in pumping the blood from the ankle back to the heart. Usually a 15-20mmHg or 20-30mmHg compression is adequate.
- Watch your diet… Foods high in sodium cause your body to retain more fluids and swell.
Some people experience no symptoms with varicose veins, for others, the varicose veins hurt (throbbing, aching or burning). Other people experience itching or the vein feels hot, and many experience swelling in their legs. Symptoms are usually less severe in the early morning and worse at the end of the day (after standing or sitting for prolonged periods of time). The cause of the pain may be nerve irritation. As varicose veins dilate, they can begin to press against adjacent nerves.
Some athletes relate that their legs feel fine when training, but a short time later the legs that have varicose veins begin to ache, throb and feel heavy. If they lie down and elevate their legs, they feel better. While an athlete is exercising, their muscles required more oxygen. So the oxygen rich blood is transported through the arteries and the muscles helped the veins return the oxygen poor blood to the heart. When the exercise is completed, there is no calf pump action to help the veins return blood to the heart resulting in pooling of blood in the lower extremity. Elevating the leg helps the body defy gravity and return the blood to the heart (just as compression stockings and socks do).
Sports which add more weight to the legs such as weightlifting, skiing, backpacking and repetitive motion sports such as running, cycling and tennis put a lot of stress on the veins in the legs. These activities can damage the delicate valves of the venous system and exacerbate the venous insufficiency. There are positive and negative reasons to exercise or not, but they cancel each other out. So stay active and defy gravity by wearing compression socks!
If your legs ache and swell, it could be a bigger problem than simply overdoing it at last week’s soccer game. And even if your legs aren’t in pain, if you’re seeing weird vein patterns, chances are there could be something wrong. Visit your primary care physician so he can make arrangements to have them checked out and defy gravity by wearing compression socks.